Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Surf while offline? Indians develop service

Could this be the next Sabeer Bhatia moment? Rakesh Mathur and Beerud Sheth, two US-based Bombay IIT graduates have developed what could possibly be the next big thing on the Internet.

On Monday, they released Webaroo, a software service that will let one surf thousands of websites without connecting to the Internet.

Webaroo, which downloads and stores bits of the Internet data relevant to a particular subject on your laptop or mobile handheld device for surfing offline, is already the buzzword across tech circles around the globe.

The implications of this technology are huge. It will enable a person to surf reviews of hotels and restaurants in Mumbai on-board a train or flight without requiring a live Internet connection, or read about the latest in sports while travelling on the potholed highway to your native village in the hinterland.

Webaroo servers, meanwhile, comb the Internet for most relevant content using intelligent search to create downloadable 'packs'. Whenever you connect to the Internet or hit upon a Wi-Fi hotspot next, the software updates the content on your device in a few minutes.

Webaroo's revenues come in through relevant advertising based on search results, similar to the methodology Google and Yahoo.

It is, however, restricted to static content, which means one cannot buy stuff on eBay using the software since online transactions are a real-time activity. The possible proliferation of broadband and Wi-Fi Internet in public places also threatens Webaroo's business aspect.

The idea of browsing thousands of webpages without being connected to the Internet came to Mathur two years ago as he was photographing auroras with his friend Brad Husick in the United States.

"As mobile use grows, consumers want to be able to do more with their mobile devices," Mathur says, who had earlier founded Junglee, a comparison-shopping website which was later bought by Amazon.com.

Communicating with this newspaper over email from the US, Rakesh Mathur admitted that new start-ups on the Web could not be pulled off without using India's low-cost BPO industry.

Webaroo itself employs over 100 people in Delhi and Mumbai to build the content database that forms the software's content packs. "The advantages of India clearly are based on costs, talent, and attitude," he said.

When asked how long would it take for Web-entrepreneurs to conceive and implement breakthrough ideas while operating completely from India, Mathur said: "The first wave of companies has been IT- or BPO-services companies. The next wave has to be product companies. At present there are a few successful product companies completely out of India. As the numbers of these companies grow, the size of the wave grows."
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